Moving capstone presentations online bittersweet for students

June 30, 2020 | Science
Different — that's how Zachary Shaw describes the experience of presenting his capstone project to his computer science peers and faculty members.

Fourth-year computer science students spend a term in their final year working on their capstone projects, through which students explored a wide variety of subject areas, including virtual economies, collaborations with local businesses and detecting exoplanets (planets outside our solar system). For his project, Zachary wrote a 3-D rendering engine from scratch using the programming language Go.

"Capstones are an excellent way for students to synthesize what they’ve learned and often connect with some other aspect such as businesses, hobbies or other fields they’ve studied," explains Dr. Cameron Macdonell, chair of the Department of Computer Science.

While the students effortlessly adapted to the need to move their presentations online, there was still something bittersweet about not being able to share the moment in person.

"I'm sad I didn't get to see all the people who helped my project get to where it was so I could thank them more personally but I'm also happy that despite not being there physically, I was still able to present my project in a way that made me feel comfortable," says Zachary.

He says one highlight was being able to have his parents see his presentation online.

"Sometimes you have expectations for stuff and it doesn't work out the way you thought it might, but in the end, it was for the best," Zachary says. "Nobody could really see how nervous I was and I couldn't see how many people were watching. It was also evident that people are a lot more open to asking questions about projects when they can do so in a text format instead of in person."

Fourth-year computer science student Wamaitha Gitaka, whose presentation focused on her work-integrated learning experience at PCL in Winter 2020, echoes those thoughts. "I was a bit down that I could not present in front of my classmates and professors," she says. "When presenting in person, it is easier to read the reaction of the group, which gives you good direction going forward. It's hard to get that in an online presentation, but the perk was that I could be seated comfortably at home."

She says that overall it was a good learning experience.

Macdonell says the program has never done online capstone presentations before, and that while the challenges were ones that many people working and learning from home have encountered, he is impressed with the level of professionalism the students have shown — and with record attendance numbers.

"One positive was we had more attendees than normal — we got over 50 at one point," says Macdonell. He attributes this to students being able to tune in from their living rooms to watch their peers present, rather than having to find a way to commute to campus. "We even had a colleague from Google connect from California. He also asked for some resumes after."

While he hopes to return to in-person presentations at some point, Macdonell says that the faculty and students were able to gain a better understanding of the advantages of this online format. "I'm sure we’ll livestream in the future even if the primary event is in person."


Mind control

It was almost crazy to think four fourth-year computer science majors could control a drone with their minds. Almost.


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